She has no scars.
Not the scar on her forehead, or the scars on her neck where the collar left its mark. Not even some of the less visible scars: the numb spot where the neural link connected the collar to her nervous system, among others.
He hadn't known about that one until she told him. The nerves dead from the years of the control device being activated daily, more than daily, at every whim of her captors.
Silver had noticed the changes, of course, once the scars were gone. Nolikka asserted herself. She was more analytical, more easily lost in her work. Less flinchingly afraid when a wrong answer woke the memory of punishment, more willing to take risks. More comfortable in social situations. Less apprehensive around unfamiliar people, and in unfamiliar places. Like a new person, he might have said.
Is glad he didn’t say, now. Because that's what is worrying her.
He remembers the circumstances, the first time they met. Remembers activating the collar that left those scars and that numb spot on Nolikka's neck, and watching with the vaguely interested expression of a potential buyer, careful not to let her captors see the way his stomach tried to crawl up his throat when the all-consuming pain hit her. Remembers, too, the way she had trouble forcing herself to cross the threshold out of her prison: not even fear, just bone deep instinct instilled by that collar.
Three years of that.
She endured three years and they could not be shed as easily as the collar the techs had cut from her neck. They shaped the person she was afterward. The person he started a corporation with. The person he is ...
Even now, he shies away from that last thought.
Though not so quickly as he might once have.
The scars she doesn't have, in this new, clone body, were some of the last bars from that prison, that had shaped her life since.
But it worries her.
She worries that losing the scars, the bars, will mean being a different person. Not the person he knows, not the person he cares about. If it was a holo, he would announce that no change could alter his feelings. That what they have transcends all that.
It isn't a holo, though. She is a scientist, and there isn't much data yet. Certainly not enough to reach a conclusion. He knows, though. Even if the declarations are only to himself.
Some things, you just don't say.
He is worried for a different reason. What if Dr Akell was right, all those months ago? People in such circumstances, she had cautioned, can make emotional judgments they might not otherwise make. Sometimes people assign certain roles to others, as a result of events they've shared. The ideas one has about the other person, in such a case, can be mistaken.
Dr Akell has been wrong in the past.
She has been right in the past, too.
If what is between them evaporates when Nolikka sees it in the light of a more complete freedom from the past? If its foundations had been in those bars? If she realizes her feelings were just a mirage?
It will not matter, of course. Whatever fears about what might change coil in his gut, she deserves to leave the reminders behind. To live without scars. So when she asks "I hope you will make me aware of any ... that is. Any changes which might, in your opinion, be undesirable", as if he has any right to make that kind of determination, he tells her "As you wish."
It is a lie, though, or at least, not an entire truth.
He will not find any of the changes undesirable. Whatever changes freedom wrought, it would be for the better. Better for her.
Encouraging her to keep the scars, so he can avoid the consequences, would make him as bad as the people who gave them to her.
And whatever else happened, it would be worth it, to see her without scars.